Consortium begins drone demonstrations for South Plains healthcare industry transport

Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:36 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Unmanned aircraft could soon be flying a “superhighway” on the South Plains to aid in transporting medical supplies and healthcare cargo as the Matador Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Consortium begins tests and demonstrations of its delivery capabilities.

“There’s always been the concept of can we use those corridors of electricity transmission lines, and rail corridors, rivers, roads, other types of linear features on the map, to be able to create drone highways to be able to create repeatable, scalable safe corridors for drone operations,” Ty Harmon, CEO & Chief of Technology Recon at 2THEDGE, said.

Harmon’s company and the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center developed the Matador UAS Consortium to further a demonstration they did last year, delivering a healthcare package from Abernathy to Canyon.

“Our goal is, specifically, to leverage the existing infrastructure that is in the greater Panhandle area, to build on that infrastructure, leveraging the great facilities that are Reese Technology Center, like the firehouse that’s adjacent to runways and has plenty of space for drone operations, to create a large lab to help demonstrate how we can use these shielded airspace corridors to create a blueprint for the rest of the country,” Harmon said.

UMC Health System is also part of the partnership as they explore the use of drones in healthcare. Tuesday the Consortium simulated the transport of patient blood samples from a community clinic to a laboratory, launching from Shallowater and Frenship ISD’s football fields.

“Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, UMC, and other partners in the area support over 3 million patients,” Harmon said. “That’s from Wichita Falls to Amarillo to El Paso, through the Permian Basin, and 2.7 million of those patients live outside of Lubbock. Out of the 108 counties supported, depending on the data and who you ask, 84 are considered to be medically underserved. We have an opportunity to provide a greater reach and transport to those communities.”

Organ procurement organizations are also interested in the transport method, according to Harmon. They believe the use of drones can open up more opportunities for matches or expedite the process.

“With traditional ground or aviation resources, if they missed that last flight of the night, then they have to drive it all the way to Dallas to wherever it needs to go,” Harmon said. “This is a more on-demand capability.”

At both school districts, the Consortium allowed students to be part of the demonstrations, focusing on STEM education and the possibilities that come with the aircraft, whether it be computer science or maintenance careers.

“The Consortium is really intended to strengthen communities, exciting kids,” Harmon said. “Through that, we believe that we can help create a model for how drones can support commercial missions ranging from e-commerce and fulfillment delivery to healthcare to lifesaving medications, or antivenom for snake bites, to be able to go out, all those different missions that we’re intending to support.”

Harmon said this would be a slow implementation of the drones but expects a gradual increase in the volume of flights and missions over the next five years.

Further demonstrations will continue through the week, including a long-haul flight over 80 miles.